At MIT, visualizing e-waste's global journey

Summary:MIT Senseable City Lab's "Backtalk" project tracked the journey of electronic waste across the globe, then visualized it.

Last Friday, SmartPlanet offered you an exclusive sneak peak at the Museum of Modern Art's "Talk to Me" show about the intersection of the utility and emotional connection of real-world user interfaces.

One of the projects on display at the show is called "Backtalk" and it details the journey that electronic waste -- "e-waste" -- takes before it arrives at its final destination.

We all know in the back of our minds that the obsolete cell phones and laptops in a tech-forward nation like the U.S. may end up in a landfill in a developing nation far away -- but do we really know where it all goes?

Turns out we do -- at least when those devices are reused and not disassembled for parts.

The folks at MIT's Senseable City Lab took 40 laptops that were dropped in urban e-waste disposal centers or donated to developing nations and installed on them Prey tracking technology to track their whereabouts.

What ensued was the surprising journey that these devices take before they arrive at their final destinations.

In a video, see how the researchers injected a little life into digital refuse:

Illustration: MIT Senseable City Lab

[via Co.Design]

Related on SmartPlanet:

This post was originally published on

Topics: Innovation


Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. He is also the former editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation. He writes about business, technology and design now but used to cover finance, fashion and culture. He was an intern at Money, Men's Vogue, Popular Mechanics and the New York Daily Ne... Full Bio

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